Hayden Richardson, a member of the team from 2018 to 2020, filed a lawsuit in January 2021 against the university, its deputy Title IX coordinator, its associate athletic director for marketing, Polisky and Bonnevier, claiming that she had been groped, harassed and lifted without her permission by intoxicated fans and alumni during university-sponsored events and tailgating parties. She said in the lawsuit that she had been encouraged to continue taking photographs and mingling with potential donors to elicit funds for the university even though she raised concerns about those actions to Bonnevier and Polisky.
The lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court in the school’s state of Illinois, also contends that the Title IX office violated federal policy by delaying a formal investigation into these actions over a year after Richardson reported them.
In her university thesis, which details the experiences of her and other cheerleaders, Richardson wrote that in January 2019 members of her team met with Polisky to voice their concerns around tailgating. He responded, “What did you expect as cheerleaders?” She added that Polisky had accused two teammates of fabricating evidence when they sent 16 anonymously written accounts of harassment to him and Heather Obering, the associate athletic director for marketing, at the same meeting.
Polisky denied these allegations in an email through his attorneys to The New York Times on Friday, as did a representative for Obering. Both have moved to dismiss the case, along with the university. An attorney for Bonnevier did not respond to requests for comment.
Polisky and Obering forwarded complaints from the January 2019 meeting to the university’s Office of Equity, which investigated. Later in 2019, policies restricting hairstyles were removed and cheerleaders were no longer required to participate in tailgates, a spokeswoman for the university, Jeri B. Ward, wrote in an email to The Times on Thursday. Bonnevier’s contract was not renewed in 2020 after she was found to have violated the university’s discrimination and harassment policy, Ward said.
“This is ultimately a question of whether Me Too and Black Lives Matter will have meaning on college campuses, and also how much sway big donors will have over student safety,” Caitlin Fitz, a history professor who worked on letters and protests over Polisky’s hiring, said in a phone interview on Wednesday.